UN health agency ramps up efforts against Tanzania cholera outbreak

19 June 2015 | News and Media

Tanzania, 18 June 2015 – The cholera outbreak in Tanzania continues to spread among the populations in the country’s western Kigoma region amid an influx of refugees from neighbouring Burundi, the United Nations health agency warned today as it detailed its ongoing response aimed at stemming the epidemic.

Burundian refugees being treated for acute diarrhoea in a cholera treatment centre in Kigoma, Tanzania. Photo: UNHCR/B. Loyseau

“Carrying out social mobilization, including door-to-door campaigns and health education is a key component to educate populations and inform district and community leaders about the disease,” Dr. Rufaro Chatora, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) Representative for Tanzania, declared in a press release.

The Tanzanian cholera epidemic – spawned by a massive inflow of Burundian refugees fleeing their country’s political unrest – has claimed 34 lives since the beginning of the outbreak on 10 May. In total, 4,662 suspected and confirmed cases have been reported.

Since early April, nearly 100,000 Burundians have fled their country and streamed across the country’s borders into neighbouring states such as Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to UN estimates. At the same time, the cholera epidemic gained momentum as refugees gathered along the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania.

As a result of the ongoing outbreak, the WHO has announced that it is mobilizing some 164,000 doses of oral cholera vaccines (OCVs) to populations living in high risk areas, including all refugees at the Nyarugusu camp, as well as at-risk Tanzanian communities neighbouring the camp, and identified villages such as Kagunga, Karago and Kigoma Ujiji.

Meanwhile, in addition to the OCV campaign, relief and health efforts are also focusing on the provision of safe water, sanitation and personal hygiene as the main cholera prevention and control measures.

In the press release, Dr. Chatora explained that additional staff from both the WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had arrived on the ground to help support the Regional Health Management Team and facilitate the coordination and preparation of the campaign “in order to reach and protect as many people as we can.”